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Death by a thousand cuts

Death by a thousand cuts

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Death by a thousand cuts. Will this be the fate of Napa’s watershed? A project that degrades our watershed wounds this valley, killing it slowly. The Walt Ranch is more than a mere cut. It is a devastating gash, ambushing our watershed. We live on the valley floor, and are acutely aware that the proposed Walt Ranch vineyard project will have an egregious effect on the viability of this valley.

Like many others, we wonder why such salient breaches to the watershed are explained away in the environmental impact report? It explains that “with mitigation,” this project’s effects would be “less than significant.”

Cutting 26,000 trees is less than significant? Visualize just one acre with 50 tree carcasses, their stumps unearthed. It will resemble a war zone with the myriad ecosystems created by indigenous flora and fauna destroyed. What is the “mitigation?” Planting vineyards where the manager’s job is to eliminate competing foliage around the vines, and keep out everything else from suspicious insects to wild turkeys?

It will take years for these hillsides to reach their “new normal.” Meanwhile, erosion will send silt downward to its gravitational destiny, and vineyard chemicals will percolate down to our ground water. Napa Water General Manager Joy Eldredge has said the Milliken Water Treatment Plant “cannot remove the fertilizers that can run off vineyards.” Further, to the heart of the matter, she said, “Let’s face it. We’re still going to be drinking this water hundreds of years from now.”

“Less than significant.” Enough of this environmental impact report legalese word play. When you poke too many straws in the groundwater, it depletes the source. In that instance, does mitigation mean trucking water in where groundwater has been depleted? Carneros Inn trucks in water, for instance. Despite the nearly seven year struggle with Carneros farmers and residents who objected to the development of the resort for fear of losing groundwater, the developers prevailed. In practical everyday language, trucking in water is very significant. Coincidentally, the same firm who created the environmental impact report for the Carneros Inn also created the Walt Ranch environmental impact report.

The Register recently described the Hall family’s 10 years of work on this project. In addition, the article went on to describe the lengthy and expensive environmental impact report as perhaps “the most comprehensive” report of its kind ever in Napa. Speaking to the investment of time, consider the time invested by residents in those hills. Circle Oaks, for instance, was created in 1964.

The residents of those 180 homes have spent 52 years on that community, developing their own water district and their own fire prevention district, not to mention paying their mortgages, insurance and property taxes for five decades.

As for the comprehensive environmental impact report, neither length nor expense guarantees that its conclusions protect the watershed and groundwater. Remember the euphemistic environmental impact report terminology discussed above: “with mitigation” and “less than significant?” Someone has to say that the emperor has no clothes.

We certainly would be remiss if we failed to mention the Hall’s generosity to the valley in their numerous charitable endeavors. Many organizations have benefited from their contributions to the community. We recognize and appreciate their largess. However, philanthropy is not a quid pro quo for the Walt Ranch project’s assault on the valley’s watershed. Looking back, many of America’s iconic philanthropists made their fortunes by exploiting natural resources, exploiting their workers, and exploiting their political connections, assuaging the citizens by creating an alternative legacy through philanthropy.

Many other concerns about the Walt Ranch project have been written about over the past months, including the impact of heavy equipment on the roads and increased traffic. We particularly admired one letter many months ago that was a scholarly and exhaustive list of all species, flora and fauna, that will be impacted. That letter was really the beginning of our education about the devastating impact of this project.

Keep writing. Perhaps your letters will educate our supervisors and help them in their very difficult task, namely, balancing development without killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Above all, we treasure this most beautiful and unique valley. Compromising its watershed and contaminating groundwater will lead to its demise. Sadly, we can feel each of those thousand cuts.

Karen and Charley Pettigrew


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